Afam Ade-Odiachi: Who will show up for you? [NEW VOICES]

by Afam Ade-Odiachi

I walk into The Place, an establishment that seems to be the preferred lunch destination of the aspiring middle class, disconnected. Outside, a man walked up to me and said, “Brother, I am hungry. Please buy food for me?” I wasn’t sure what to think, but many things went through me all at once.

First was the human impulse. My conscience’s call to do the good thing. Money moves in and out of my life like a weather system. Sometimes, I have a lot of it, and sometimes I have very little. I am lucky enough to know that I have access to it when I am truly in need. It is the underlying reason behind my Christianity, the firm belief that God has made provisions for me.

The second thing that flitted through me was anger. It took everything to not scream “how dare you!” It would have been a very Lagosian thing to do. Our tempers flare inexplicably over petty offences best left forgotten. It is an unreasonable thing. I think it’s because life is so difficult, that every new difficulty no matter how small must be raged against with everything that we’ve got. The idea that a stranger could expect me to think of someone other than myself for a moment was inexplicably annoying.

And then there was pity. I pitied him for believing me generous enough, and I pitied myself for not being accommodating. The sum would only fly out of my pocket later, spent on cigarettes, or booze, or some other banal thing that I could do without.

All of this had a singular result. I stood in line, wondering whose life I was living, wondering why that encounter, which most people would ignore had become a major cogitation. I think it’s my desire to be good, and how I always seem to fall short. A song came on that made me feel worse about the minor event. It started with the words, “He’s on his way to his grave.” That gave me pause. There are moments like this in life, where it seems like the universe is talking to us. The only thing there was that I didn’t know if it was talking about him or me, and at that point I didn’t care, because one way or another we all end up there.

It followed me till evening. I sat at 355, a bar in Victoria Island, with a beer in my hand and the smile of a happy drunk. I go there every Wednesday without fail, as determinedly as I show up to work before 9. This trend began when a friend of mine started hosting an evening there. The reason why I turn up is simple but difficult to explain. It is that I’ve got what I would call a forever inferiority complex. I never think anything I do is quite good enough. I’m so full of failures real and imagined that I’ll do nearly anything for a little success. So I do what I can for the people that matter without any expectation that they’ll do the same for me. They already do more than they know. Through them, I have a place in the world. The value of such a thing is unquantifiable.

The drinks flowed as my wallet became increasingly lighter, and I found myself thinking back to the man I had both disdained and ignored when he was hungry or desperate enough to ask a stranger for lunch, and I pitied him again, but this time the reasons for my pity were different. I felt sorry that he didn’t have anyone who would show up for him. I cannot imagine how it would feel to rely on strangers for pleasures as basic as lunch, but I am glad that I do not have to.

Afam Ade-Odiachi is a writer and journalist, with a passion for story telling. In addition to working as a junior reporter for CNBC Africa, he runs a little blog called He has also served as a content co-ordinator for Mnet’s Stargist.

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